As any dedicated F1 fan knows February is all about one thing, pre season launches. The first sight of the new cars is akin to a nip of rum for a recovering alcoholic, you tried your hardest to avoid F1 gossip sites over the Christmas season, you knew not to care what Jackie Stewart’s opinion on Lewis Hamilton is this week or which crash prone driver feels confident they will have a magical recovery and become the new Jenson Button but its done, you’ve had your hit like any true addict and its time to start refreshing PlanetF1 and F1Fanatic on an hourly basis to get your daily dose of Formula 1 news.
So keeping in mind I have no Formula 1 technical knowledge other than that of aggressively absorbing internet opinion since I got my first dial up connection, here is what I think of this years F1 launches so far starting with the Mclaren MP4-28. Please note, there will be no Ferrari as due to the fact I have they will not give my clunky little site a media account, despite numerous attempts on my behalf.
And for no particular reason McLaren are the first of the top teams to feature on the list. Simply because they were the team that struck my attention the most. The first opinion of many when the MP4-28 was launched is that it didn’t look substantially different to that of its predecessor, but this cannot be more from the truth because as is usually the case the devil is in the details. It was always my strong opinion that the MP4-27 was the fastest car in 2012 but was let down by poor strategic decisions and even poorer reliability, the fact it showed such a dominant display at Brazil despite the team giving up on substantial upgrades months prior was a testament to just how good the Mp4-27 was. McLaren have made substantial ground up changes to the Mp4-28 despite the regulations remaining stagnant which would indicate they have found significant areas its predecessor was lacking and could be improved.
The reason many people feel the Mp4-28 isn’t a drastic difference is that the overall shape of the car looks similar at first glance, because the 27 never ran a substantial nose step like many of the other teams the fact the 28 runs a modesty panel nose and that the exhaust positions for now are still very similar to the 27 give the car a very similar overall look. However, McLaren have made significant improvements firstly looking at the front suspension. Following the Ferrari F2012 many experts agreed that the trend would move to a pullrod front of the car as the suspension rods give a far cleaner airflow over the front wheel area to the sidepods and eventually the downforce producing aspects of the car. The mechanical operation of the pushrod vs pullrod front suspension is of little significance compared to the aerodynamic effect. While in a ‘conventional’ pushrod setup the main arm of the suspension has to be mounted towards the top of the chassis and then cascades towards the center point of the wheel, the pullrod suspension by comparison is mounted towards the bottom of the chassis which means it has a near flat angle to the center of the wheel and by doing this is far less obstructive of the air flow of the front section of the car. While it seems like a very insignificant change the front suspension area one of the main parts of the car that creates dirty air to the sidepods and eventually the rear wing and rear diffuser, so this small change can create benefits that flow over the entire car.
Following the major suspension geometry changes the second point is that the MP4-28 is a “high nose” car. Only when compared side by side to the Mp4-27 is this apparent, but the 28′s nose in the 2012 regulations would have had a significant kink, this being covered by the new modesty panel which seems to be divisive as to what the teams will run, many opting out of it. It was widely considered in 2012 that the high nose cars gained significant aero flow around the sidepods and under the floor of the car, McLaren caught onto this mid season and gave the front of its car a more ‘duck like’ appearance but the car was never designed ground up around the high nose. This is one area many, including particularly Gary Anderson felt that McLaren could have seen significant performance advantages, the fact the 28 comes from the shop with a high nose shows that McLaren agrees.
The third and major change for me are the sidepods on the Mp4-28. When I first saw them I was shocked at how much the team had improved the packaging in that aspect of the car. If you look at a picture of the Mp4-27 sidepods compared to the 28 (below) side by side the difference becomes apparent the magnitude of the change, or rather the lack of sidepods on the 28.
As the above photos rather poorly demonstrate, the Mp4-27 sidepods hold high well past the end of the top air intake snorkel, where as the Mp4-28 by comparison start to drop off almost instantly to create a clear channel of air that washes over the sidepod element to aid in the air channeled from the semi-coanda exhaust. When this is viewed with the pullrod front suspension you can start to understand just how effective this entire aero effect will be as a package as directing air from the front wing, through the front suspension arms, over and through the sidepods and exhausts and down to the diffuser which was not included in the launch demo car.
Launch events are mostly sponsor PR rather than an actual attempt to show the audience and competing teams just what you’ve been working on for the past 12 months, so the fact that most of the rear end details and packaging was missing from the McLaren is a testament to the fact they care more about hiding the rear of the car then they do their incredibly innovative front to mid section design. Expect most of the car to change for the first test and the Melbourne version of the Mp4-28 to be drastically different. Possibly with some rather innovative features like a passive F duct.
One area I was surprised about is that McLaren kept a more traditional exhaust style for the launch car while Red Bull spend most of 2012 developing their true Coanda tunnel style exhaust, the Mp4-28 uses a partial Coanda exhaust without the tunnel effect that Red Bull used to such great effect with Sebastian Vettel in the final quarter of the 2012 season. If this exhaust remains on the car we see testing in under a weeks time at Spain is yet to be seen.
Jenson Button had a wry smile the entire launch. Make no mistake the team know the improvements in aerodynamic efficiency for their 2013 challenger in the wind tunnels and simulators. The lack of Lewis Hamilton will be a severe thorn in the side of McLaren this year but in a time when most teams are focusing on their 2014 challenger it seems McLaren have a very impressive piece of equipment to take on the three times defending champions Red Bull.